Classroom interaction

30th April 2004 at 01:00
I appreciate that travel broadens the mind, but I'm not sure that Peter Peacock got value for miles with his trip halfway round the world.

You reported last week that he was so impressed by the contrasting results from surveys of Maori children and teachers on the impact teachers can have on the educational chances of children (80 per cent of students thought their relationship with the teacher had an impact on their educational achievement, whereas teachers thought the determining factors were family and community circumstances) that he has decided to commission research.

First, it is important to point out that the New Zealand figures were from attitudinal surveys and there is no reason to believe that either side's perception is right.

Secondly, let me help Peter Peacock out with his research proposal by pointing him in the direction of Carol Fitz-Gibbon from the University of Durham who has consistently argued that, whilst children's innate ability and circumstances matter, teachers can and do make a difference.

She has research findings to back her stance. Moreover, rather than travel to New Zealand, he could have found this out by sitting at home and reading back numbers of The TES Scotland.

In February last year, you reported Professor Fitz-Gibbon as saying that classroom interaction was more effective than computer packages. In October, she was arguing that requiring parents to be involved in their children's education could lock children into failure. Her work showed that 50 per cent of variation in exam results is due to the innate differences between pupils but that 30 per cent is due to classroom practice.

Then in March this year, speaking to the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, she again argued that individual teachers are important. This time she quoted research statistics drawn from maths tests south of the border. These showed that the school accounts for 15 per cent of variation in performance, the class for 43 per cent and individual pupils for 42 per cent.

Parallel research in attainment in English found that, whilst the actual figures were slightly different, the order of impact was the same.

It would seem that research on teacher effectiveness already exists. In the past it has been ignored because the fashion was to focus on the whole school and to talk of effective schools.

Carol Fitz-Gibbon's findings have consistently shown that it is the individual teacher in the classroom who has the far bigger impact, and there is no reason to assume that inspirational teachers are confined to those schools that come top of the league tables.

Judith Gillespie Development manager Scottish Parent Teacher Council

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